We start off with a bang: "Her doctor had told Julian's mother that she must lose twenty pounds on account of her blood pressure …" (1). Because mom is afraid to ride the buses alone at night (she's just a wee bit racist, this one), she asks her son, Julian, to take her to the Y for her reducing class every Wednesday. Major eye-roll, but he does it anyway.
This Wednesday is different because (1) his mom has a new, really ugly hat, and (2) Julian gets it in his mind to teach his mother a lesson about the error of her old-fashioned views on race and class.
Attempt #1 doesn't go too well, when the black guy Julian tries to talk to "refused to come out from behind his paper" (71). Guess he didn't want to be part of the life-lesson.
Now for Attempt #2: two new passengers get on the bus and sit next to Julian, a young boy (Carver) and his mother. Gasp! They're black. To his delight, Julian sees that Carver's mother is wearing the same hat as his mother; he can't "believe that Fate had thrust upon his mother such a lesson" (82). Unfortunately, the lesson is lost on his mother because she's too distracted by Carver, whom she finds exceedingly cute. But Carver's mother is not amused by their mutual affections and violently forces her son away.
When it turns out that they are all getting off at the same stop, Julian's mother searches for a nickel to give Carver. All she finds is a penny and even though Julian warns her not to do it, she offers it to the boy. Carver's mother is super ticked-off and hits Julian's mother with her purse, shouting "He don't take nobody's pennies!" (102).
Things get very serious very fast. The sudden act of violence (or maybe the emotional shock) pushes his mother over the edge, and her blood pressure rises dangerously high. When she collapses on the sidewalk, Julian panics and flees, crying for help.